“If you’re going to invest in these kinds of products and realize their maximum value, you’ve got to be willing to invest in training.”
–Steve Warfle, President, InSite Software Inc.
What’s new from construction industry software developers? In our last issue, we talked to HCSS and Viewpoint about changes in how software is provided to the construction industry and the training opportunities available. This issue, we put the same questions to Roctek (estimating and takeoff software), InSite (takeoff software), B2W (estimating, bidding, field tracking/analysis, maintenance/repair, planning/dispatching), and PROCORE (cloud-based construction management). General themes emerged:
- No train, no gain—contractors are wasting their investment if they don’t train and provide opportunities for their employees to take advantage of what software developers make available.
- It’s better for employees to learn from software company experts than to try to work it out for themselves.
- Software developers are helping to take the guesswork out of training delivery by building training into the cost of the product and annual maintenance contracts.
- More and more, delivery of training options is customer driven (as in the development of YouTube videos to meet the expectations of technologically savvy employees).
- While centralized conferences and workshops are no longer the norms, they can offer valuable peer-to-peer learning experiences.
PROCORE might well speak for its compatriots when it observes that the construction industry has been technologically underserved regarding software, especially in a “user-friendly” mode. “Many of our users have been burdened by years of point solutions that require pages of training manuals, limited user licenses, and limited flexibility within the product that cause resistance to change,” says PROCORE Customer Marketing Specialist Brandy O’Rourke.
“The value of on-screen takeoffs versus manual methods becomes self-evident when you see how much faster and more accurate on-screen methods are,” says Roctek International VP Sarah Wilson. “Reluctance typically comes into play when a user is not comfortable with computers or simply doesn’t have the time to devote to learning a new program. Our training programs make the learning process simple, intuitive and efficient.
“Our one-on-one on-screen training is customizable to help train people at different skill levels. Our 3D views allow customers to see exactly what their site looks like both prior to and after building, which makes identifying mistakes very intuitive. We also have grid-staking maps that resemble the grids used to do a takeoff by hand. This goes a long way in helping employees learn how to prove their quantities. In addition, we offer a manual, function training materials, and YouTube tutorial videos, which are commonly used when employees are getting started. Job reviews are also useful for new users and help teach people how to use our analysis tools and prove their quantities, which builds additional confidence in their bids.
“Users are welcome to get on-screen help at any time. Our screen share program allows us to walk customers working through any aspect of a takeoff on their own computer with phone support. Our YouTube tutorials and written support materials can be used for self-paced training, but users are always encouraged to call with any questions.” While the videos and the manuals are available at no cost, all other technical support and training materials require Roctek’s Annual Maintenance Plan, which is included in the purchase price of the software for the first year and is renewable annually ($520 for WinEx Grade and $600 for WinEx Master).
Roctek considers it essential that managers allow new hires to set aside a minimum of an hour to work with one of its application specialists. “A lot of people prefer to learn independently, and while sheer experience in playing with the software is valuable, it is more efficient to learn from one of our support staff who has years of experience.”
“The worst thing,” says InSite President Steve Warfle, “are customers who invest in the software, then call us, and it’s very clear that they don’t know how to use what we’ve provided. We work hard to make sure our customers have every opportunity for success. We provide unlimited webinar-based training and anyone, whether it’s just one user or 20 or more, can get the training they need. We schedule these webinars throughout each month, so an employee can go from beginner to confident user in a short time.” The cost of this unlimited access is built into the customer’s annual support fee. InSite also provides a comprehensive user manual and videos for people who are do-it-yourselfers.
“Each license of InSite SiteWork also includes an onboarding class called Virtual Classroom, which provides enough instruction for most commercial cut and fill projects. The instructor demonstrates each step in building a take-off and the student mimics the steps on his/her computer. The instructor can see the student’s computer screen and monitor their success. If the student needs help, the instructor can take over their mouse and demonstrate the example again.”
Warfle agrees with Wilson that managers need to reinforce the expectation that employees should use developer-supplied materials and give them time to do so. “You have to believe in training to the point that you instruct your trainees to mark the training on their calendar and inform their coworkers that they can’t be interrupted. If you don’t set up this kind of environment, there’s a high potential for failure.”
Because B2W believes that individual contractors have specific training requirements, it customizes programs for each of its users, offering classroom sessions—onsite or at its facilities—as well as webinars, online options, and a user conference. It considers small group classroom training onsite or at a B2W facility a staple and extremely efficient and cost-effective for both initial and ongoing training. It believes webinars are good for “general training” but work best when they use organization-specific data and software configurations. It considers its B2W User Conference “extremely valuable” because users learn not only from B2W trainers but also from peers who are using the software for similar applications. Its online portal has been established for ease of access to training materials, tracking new features, making support requests, and engaging in an online dialogue with other users.
Because B2W believes users value the ability to reach a live person immediately and get a quick resolution to their problem or question, it considers online and phone support critical and has invested heavily to maintain these capabilities in-house at its New Hampshire office.
What it describes as step one for effective training is building “construction logic.” As opposed to add-on applications with interfaces and general logic that aren’t intuitive for people in construction, the software B2W designs works the way construction works and is easy to adopt and use in a construction environment. This eliminates frustration and the rejection of software in the field associated with programs from suppliers who are primarily focused on accounting and IT solutions. B2W’s online library of training videos complements its traditional training tools. The index and search capability allow users to search for and drill down to a specific section very quickly via a topic or keyword. Additions are often driven by a user request for specific subjects.
PROCORE describes its platform as built with collaboration in mind, based on its premise that effective collaboration can’t happen if each individual user on a project team isn’t able to easily log in and work within the system. It sees construction as a fast-paced industry that may not have the flexibility to accommodate pre-scheduled training sessions and webinars and because of this, offers a variety of on-demand video training resources to walk users through their training needs on their own time. “While we still offer onsite training services,” says, O’Rourke, “we intentionally leverage a variety of digital resources to accommodate different learning types and preferences.
“Our digital resources span multiple mediums such as on-demand certification courses, over 8,000 plus support articles that walk users through each step, and live and on-demand webinars that explain product releases and new features and allow users to collaborate and share best practices.” PROCORE also offers a training center that makes it possible for managers to choose how they want to train their employees and customizes its training resources for individual company processes.
Training includes the Impact Series (single day, hands-on, classroom training across the United States and Australia), New Product Release webinars, Groundbreak (multi-day training), specialized tutorials (Learning Paths on its support site), PROCORE certification, and in-app guides. It also considers online and telephone help centers critical. It uses live chat, support center, and contact support e-mail to handle a full spectrum of queries, whether the questions arise in the heat of a project or are more routine. Live chat uses US-based personnel who are trained in the construction industry and respond to a customer’s inquiry in 30 seconds or less.
What’s next? Roctek is expanding its library of function-specific support materials available on the customer login portal on its website. Pre-recorded classroom training is also in development and will be available online. Wilson thinks that integration between programs, especially between takeoff and estimating programs, will be a big leap in the future and is already underway.
The folks at B2W agree that as software adoption increases across construction workflows, the emerging challenge will be integrating the various applications. Contractors need and are increasingly interested in a platform approach, with estimating and operations software solutions that share data and communicate with each other in real time. Platforms allow users to collaborate across workflows and work more efficiently.
B2W agrees with other software providers that the old notion that construction employees would reject software is starting to dissolve as younger employees come into the construction workforce. Employees expect to use technology, and contractors that don’t have modern software tools may be at a disadvantage in attracting and retaining a competent workforce.
“Contractors are used to a labor rate model with equipment operators,” says Warfle. “‘What piece of equipment and training will give me the maximum return on labor?’ Unfortunately, when it comes to their office environment, they don’t always invest in the tools that would make their highest priced employees more productive. Although we can demonstrate the productivity and accuracy the software can achieve, it’s training that makes it possible for users to perform at the highest level.”